I’ve lately been discussing the bacterial species, Lactobacillus reuteri, a fascinating microorganism that is disappearing from modern human gastrointestinal (GI) tracts. It suggests that, because at least some strains of L. reuteri provoke the hypothalamus to release the hormone oxytocin, reduced oxytocin levels are prevailing in our modern world that may thereby account for a fundamental change in human social behavior. Because I feel that this is such a HUGE issue for our modern lives and the way we interact each other, I am guilty of highlighting this issue over and over again.
But addressing this issue has implications for dealing with such common social trends as isolation, booming suicide rates, divorce, fragmentation of the family, uncompromising political discourse, perhaps even opioid addiction and gun violence.
Why would a probiotic microorganism like L. reuteri be disappearing from the human GI tract? There are a number of likely factors:
- Fewer mothers breastfeeding their infants–Infants are supposed to obtain L. reuteri via breast milk.
- Intermittent exposure to prescription antibiotics–which, as you know, are handed out liberally and often unnecessarily
- Antibiotic residues in foods–especially meats, as livestock are given antibiotics to accelerate growth
- Herbicide/pesticide residues in food–dozens of such chemicals are found in vegetables and fruits
- GMOs–that contain glyphosate and Bt toxin, both known to alter bowel flora
- Chlorinated water
- Prescription drugs–especially H2-blockers and PPIs that block stomach acid and thereby alter the GI environment
That’s a partial list. There are no studies to help us decipher the relative contribution of each factor but, given the potential for each and every factor to alter the microbiome, it’s no surprise that we have, for instance, a huge and silent epidemic of SIBO, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth that underlies many common conditions such as fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome. It is part of a broad landscape of change in the human microbiome that now looks nothing like the microbiome of primitive people unexposed to such things. And, as fewer female adults of childbearing age harbor L. reuteri, fewer will pass it onto their offspring via breastfeeding.
A big part (though not all) of the impact of L. reuteri has to do with the brain hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin is responsible for a number of interesting effects that include:
- Generating feelings of empathy for other people, connectedness, camaraderie, faithfulness to the people close to you–This is why oxytocin is administered during marital counseling: to encourage empathy between partners who may have a hard time seeing the other side.
- A desire to engage with other people–Oxytocin is given to kids with autism to encourage engaging and connecting with people, something that these kids struggle with, struggling to even make eye contact. Oxytocin yields the feeling that you are part of a group, not just a lone, individual.
- Boosting oxytocin reduces social anxiety.
- Maternal instinct–Oxytocin reinforces the maternal bond of a mother with her child. A lack of oxytocin develops, for example, in postpartum depression that can cause a mother to neglect her baby, largely reversed with oxytocin. It is also responsible for the bond of the child with the mother.
In addition to the loss of L reuteri in most modern people, fold in the effects of menopause, weight gain, and obesity that cause further drops in oxytocin such that an obese postmenopausal female can have an oxytocin level of near zero, adding insult to injury, as reduced oxytocin cultivates a tendency towards isolation, disengagement from other people, and additional weight gain to the already distorted situation.
Onto to this L. reuteri- and oxytocin-lacking background, we introduce the L. reuteri yogurt made with my unique process to generate high bacterial counts that, upon consumption, boosts oxytocin levels. In addition to effects such as dramatic reduction of appetite, increased muscle and strength, preserved or increased bone density, thicker skin and dermal collagen, and accelerated healing, many of us also experience all the social effects: empathy, connectedness, a desire to engage with other people, reduced social anxiety, and feeling closer to your family. And the effect can be quite substantial.
Are you feeling it? And what would happen if you got the entire family, friends, neighbors to consume it? Would it change the course of human interaction in your neighborhood for the better?